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Balfour Day can’t be celebrated with honour

There will never be a consensus in Britain about the Balfour Declaration.The Jewish Society at Manchester U. wants to celebrate it; many others protest- item 2. First,
The Telegraph on the conflicting opinions.

Theresa May will speak at a gala dinner at Lancaster House attended by Benjamin Netanyahu on November 2nd. Above,  photo of their first meeting in London, February 6th, 2017 by Peter Nicholls/PA WIRE

Galas in London and protests in Jerusalem: Britain tiptoes through centenary of the Balfour Declaration

By Raf Sanchez and Roland Oliphant, The Telegraph
October 31, 2017

When Theresa May rises to speak this week at the gala dinner at Lancaster House, a mansion in the shadow of St James’ Palace, her words will be as carefully chosen as the diplomatic seating plan.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, will be sitting a few feet away on the dais and her audience will include the descendants of Lord Arthur Balfour and Baron Walter Rothschild, two men whose correspondence changed the history of the Middle East.

On November 2, 1917, Balfour, then foreign secretary, sent a 67-word communique to the Zionist leader Rothschild. The short note, which would be forever known as the Balfour Declaration, stated the UK’s support for “a national home for the Jewish people” and paved the way for the creation of Israel.

Exactly a hundred years later, Mrs May and her ministers face a delicate diplomatic task as they try to navigate between Israeli celebrations and the anger of Palestinians, who believe the Balfour Declaration stripped them them of their homeland.

“We will mark the centenary with pride and respect, but also with a degree of sadness, as issues between Israel and the Palestinians remain unresolved,” said Alistair Burt, the minister for the Middle East.

The final result has left Israel’s government pleased and the Palestinians furious. On Thursday, hours before Mrs May speaks in London, Palestinian demonstrators are expected to gather at the British Council building in Ramallah to show their anger while smaller protests are likely in Jerusalem.

The Foreign Office expects the demonstrations will remain peaceful but UK security officials are closely monitoring the situation and have advised British Council staff in Ramallah to work from home on the day of the centenary. Mr Netanyahu is also likely to face protests throughout his four-day trip to London.

The Palestinian Authority has long called for Britain to apologise for the Balfour Declaration and to make amends by immediately recognising Palestine as a state. The UK has consistently refused to do either.

“Israel has no better friend in Europe than the UK”.
Mark Regev, Israeli ambassador to the UK

“It’s a slap in the face for all Palestinians,” said Manuel Hassassian, the long-serving Palestinian ambassador in London. “The UK government says that they are being sensitive to the Palestinians but this is lip service. It is a total contradiction to say you support a two-state solution when you don’t recognise the state of Palestine.”

Lord Balfour inspects Jerusalem through dark glasses, 1925. Photo from Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador, said “the embracement by the British government of the Balfour Declaration is not just looking back, but looking forward.” He told the Jerusalem Post that Israel had “no better friend in Europe than the UK”.

The yellowing original copy of the Balfour Declaration is held in a vault in the British Library, out of sight and largely out of mind for most people in the UK. But for Israelis and Palestinians, the 100-year-old text is still very much alive.

Israeli school children are taught that it is one of their country’s founding documents and every year on November 2 Israelis celebrate the anniversary of the text’s release. The prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem is on Balfour Street and Israeli political reporters refer to “Balfour Street” the way British reporters use “Downing Street”.

Palestinians protest against the Balfour Declaration in Ramallah. Photo by Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency, Getty Images

Meanwhile Palestinians of all ages, even those who speak no English, still spit out the name Balfour and will tell you it is at their root of their displacement and continuing occupation by Israel.

“It is an injustice committed against us by Britain that is impossible to forget,” said Jawad Rashid, a 64-year-old living in the Shuafat refugee camp. “It would be a mistake for parents not to teach their children about Balfour.”

In 1987, the Israeli parliament held an event to mark the Declaration’s 70th anniversary and invited Margaret Thatcher to be the guest of honour. She said no out of concern for the reaction in the Arab world and prompted hurt feelings in the Israeli government.

1985, King Fahd meets Mrs. Thatcher. Under discussion, a massive arms deal  and an apology for a 1983 BBC  World Service report  that Iranian pilgrims to Mecca, Saudi Arabia,  had been mistreated and imprisoned.

Britain was more concerned with an Arab backlash during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. But the politics of the Middle East has changed dramatically since then and many Arab governments no longer hold such hostile feelings towards Israel.

“In the Arab world in general, the Palestinian question seems to have fallen down the ladder in terms of their priorities. Iran is often viewed as more of a threat than Israel,” said Dr Azriel Bermant, the author of Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East. “I think Britain is no longer so worried about an Arab backlash for being supportive of Israel.”

Britain’s own ties with Israel have strengthened, too. UK ambivalence over Jewish attacks on British troops in Palestine in the 1940s has given way to a strong set of security and trade relationships, even if the two sides occasionally clash over Gaza and Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

Britain’s leading Jewish organisations have welcomed the government’s handling of the Balfour Centenary and many of their leaders will attend Thursday’s dinner alongside Mrs May and Mr Netanyahu.

“Where the government is now is perfectly right and perfectly proper,” said Simon Johnson, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council. “I think the fact that they are marking the centenary with pride and high level British figures will be present at the commemoration event is exactly the right place to be. I don’t think we wanted any more than that.”

Balfour ‘Celebrations’ on campus enrage students and staff

The organisation of independent groups celebrating the centenary of the Balfour Declaration on the University campus has sparked outrage amongst some members of the university

By Hana Jafar, The Mancunion
November 01, 2017

Students at the University of Manchester have organised a protest against the university allowing celebrations of the Balfour Declaration on campus, organised by pro-Israeli groups.

The Manchester Balfour 100 event is set to commence on Tuesday the 31st of October at the University of Manchester’s Whitworth building. It is part of a number of events marking a century since former British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour released a statement on the 2nd of November, announcing support for a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, then under the Ottoman Empire with a Jewish population of 90,000.

According to a section titled ‘Manchester’ on the official Balfour 100 website, zionist groups were established in Didsbury by Jewish businessman Chaim Weizmann [? he was a biochemist and research scientist before taking up full-time politics] after the first world war, and it was in fact philosopher and former professor at The University of Manchester, Samuel Alexander, who arranged the meeting between Weizmann and Balfour. For supporters of the Zionist cause, this was imperative to the creation of Israel in 1948.

However, for Palestinians, this has led to the loss of land and illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, with collateral damage including the expulsion of around 800,000 Palestinians and the destruction of approximately 400 villages over the last 50 years.

The University’s decision to allow celebrations to take place has stirred outrage from students, academics, and activist groups on campus including the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the BME Campaign, Action Palestine, and the ‘Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!’ Campaign.

These groups have organised an ‘Apartheid Off Campus’ protest outside the hall on the evening of the celebrations. Over a hundred students have confirmed attendance to the Facebook event, with students from Sheffield University’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign sending a coach of supporters to join in. A rumoured total of around 200 students are expected at the protest.

The University’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign, which was recently endorsed by the Students’ Union, has also written an open letter to Vice Chancellor Nancy Rothwell, entreating her to consider revoking the right to hold the celebration at the University and to cancel the event.

“Celebrating the Balfour declaration is a mockery of the suffering of the Palestinian people, and is greatly disrespectful for Palestinian students at the university who have, alongside their families, been forced to live their entire lives under the boot of the Israeli army.

“A large number of students have expressed fear for their safety with Israeli security personnel roaming our campus. By allowing this event to take place and hosting the Israeli embassy, the university is failing to uphold its basic duty of care to staff and students.”

The letter was signed by activist groups and campus and other student societies, including the Arab Society, Islamic Society, Sri Lankan Society and Tamil Society.

Senior Professor of Sociology at the University, Nick Thoburn, said he was “dismayed” that the institution had allowed the event to take place on its campus, which he said commemorated the moment Britain, “with its imperial chauvinism and entitlement, knowingly gave the green light to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.”

“That this could be a cause for celebration, hosted in whatever way by a British University, when the consequences then and now have been so devastating … is indicative of the contempt that Israel and its advocates hold both for Palestinians in the region and in exile,” he added.

The Mancunion contacted the University for a statement, and was informed by a University Spokesperson that: “The University allows some of its premises to be hired by third parties for external events, provided that the events in question comply with the University’s Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech.

“This [Balfour 100] event is one such commercial booking and it has no connection to, nor is it endorsed by, the University.”

According to a representative of The University of Manchester’s Jewish Society (JSoc), “This event is not a student event and is a Jewish communal event. We support the right of Jewish students to attend and the wider Balfour campaign is to celebrate the British support for Jewish self-determination.

“The student Balfour campaign aims to commemorate the role of the British government in backing the Jewish struggle for self-determination.”

These sentiments were also echoed by organisation North West Friends of Israel, who, when contacted by The Mancunion, stated that Zionism was one of many nationalist movements at the time, concluding that “It is absolutely natural for the Jewish Community of Manchester to celebrate the centenary of Balfour given the close affinity that community has with the Jewish State of Israel.”

In the past, pro-Palestine events held and organised by student groups have been disrupted and cancelled, with University administration imposing strict guidelines on speakers.

The University statement continued: “The University will not suppress freedom of thought and expression, consistent with the Statement on Academic Freedom. However, the University has a duty to ensure, wherever practical, that such thoughts and expressions do not go beyond the articulation of points of view and do not constitute incitement to riot, insurrection, racial hatred, religious hatred, sexual harassment or other activities (beyond the right of peaceful protest) which are likely to cause a breach of the peace or public disorder or otherwise to be unlawful.

“The University will not unreasonably refuse to allow events to be organised and held. The expression of controversial views which do not breach the law will not constitute reasonable grounds for withholding permission for an event.”

British officials have spent months trying to tack between the strong emotions on both sides and even the status of the dinner reflects the diplomatic tip-toeing: while Mrs May is attending the event, it is officially being hosted by the Rothschild family and not the UK government.

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